How career centers can better prepare students for a future in global development

How can career advisers better assist students in find jobs and building their careers in development? Photo by: Alaska Youth for Environmental Action / CC BY-NC-SA

Today, students are coming from more diverse backgrounds and displaying interests in a wider variety of focal areas than ever before. While this seems like excellent news for the future of global development, it makes the prospect of aiding such a varied student population in finding fulfilling careers in their area of interest much more challenging.

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With graduation just around the corner, many universities are preparing to support students in finding jobs and mapping their future careers.

Devex recently spoke with several university and career center professionals about how they’ve been adapting to the influx of students choosing to study or work internationally.

Here are four common challenges we heard and a few tips on how to overcome them.

1. Students are increasingly interested in international specializations

Over the past several years, universities have seen a significant rise in the number of students interested in pursuing an international major or specialization. While many students are still gravitating toward degrees in international relations or public affairs, an increasing number are pursuing specializations like a communications degree with a focus on international NGOs, or a master’s of business administration with a focus on emerging markets.

With unique ways to customize their majors, students are increasingly (and often unintentionally) finding a career path that leads to international development.

Some programs are using this trend as an opportunity to collaborate with other career centers across the university. An MBA and master’s of public administration program, for example, may find overlapping interests among their students and collaborate to host a joint career fair or speaker series. The synergy between different programs can provide students with a broader network and exposure to new opportunities. As a career adviser, this cooperation can also be an opportunity to learn how colleagues across the university support students with similar interests.  

2. Many career centers aren’t equipped to handle the specific challenges of pursuing a career in international development

International development is a unique industry. From navigating different CV formats to deciphering industry-specific jargon, many career centers don’t have the knowledge to fully support students interested in breaking into this competitive field.  

Career advisers should stay informed of international news and trends in donor funding as indicators of where development organizations will have hiring needs. Beyond tracking news, many programs establish partnerships with development organizations or professionals in the field who can provide these insights to students.

Devex, for example, partners with universities to provide a broad range of career advice geared toward recent graduates from those just starting out, to professionals transitioning into this industry as well as global development veterans. With insights on how to craft a development CV, salary expectations around the world and webinars highlighting various career paths and hiring trends, Devex professional development tools provide students with the resources they need to map a successful career in international development

3. Students lack the practical skills needed for development work

A challenge we repeatedly hear from universities and employers alike is that many recent grads don’t know what development work truly entails. Largely the gap is around skills harder to learn in the classroom, such as program management or specific technical abilities traditionally learned through hands-on development practitioner work. While some institutions are seeking to address this gap, many students still enter the workforce with only a theoretical grasp of development.

To help students better prepare to join the global workforce, many universities encourage or require internships with development organizations. These experiences provide greater insight into how international organizations function and help hone skills that ultimately make a student more marketable to recruiters after graduation.

Students can also gain international experience through study abroad and international volunteer programs. Volunteering can be a necessary boost both to students starting their career and experienced professionals transitioning to international development. When evaluating different international opportunities, it’s important for students to look at the skills they need for their future career and pursue a program that will help them develop in this area.  

4. International students have added challenges in finding employment post-graduation

The 2013 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange reported a record number of both international students studying at U.S. institutions and American students studying abroad.

One common concern we hear from career advisers is that there are fewer resources for these international students once they graduate. However as the trend toward aid localization continues, international students studying at western institutions are becoming highly sought after in their home country after graduation — even if global development was not their focus at school. Global development NGOs and development consultants, and even donor agencies, can be a great place for these students to focus their job search after graduation.

Devex has a searchable database of over 12,000 organizations worldwide, which can be a useful resource for helping students identify potential employers based on location and project work. Tools like this are invaluable for students looking to leverage their degree abroad or in their home country.

As the trend of students pursuing international careers continues, universities need to ensure graduates are adequately prepared for the development job market. Whether students are just starting out or looking to take the next step in their career, seeking a job in the home office or a position overseas,  knowledge of the industry and exposure to the practical skills needed can help them on the path to success.

For more tips on pursuing a career in international development, subscribe to the weekly Doing Good newsletter. To learn more about how Devex works with universities to support their global development students, visit

Anything we missed? Comment below with any other challenges with more students pursuing careers in international development!

Whether you’re a seasoned expert or budding development professional — check out more news, analysis and advice online to guide your career and professional development, and subscribe to Doing Good to receive top international development career and recruitment news every week.

About the author

  • Stephanie Nguyen

    Stephanie Eichmann, was formerly on the Global Membership Team, where she helped individuals and organizations navigate the resources on the Devex site.